Gratitude Journals: What They Are and How To Keep One

A gratitude journal is a tool to actively remind yourself and give expression to the things you're thankful for. This positive action brings a lot of benefits. Read on to learn more about them and how to keep one.
Gratitude Journals: What They Are and How To Keep One

Last update: 20 September, 2021

Gratitude is the expression of what you feel when you recognize and acknowledge something positive in your life. There are several ways to give expression to such emotion, and one of them is through gratitude journals.

The action of giving thanks requires you to recognize something as positive, and focus on this more than any adverse aspects. Considering this, gratitude brings benefits to those who practice it actively; not only does it create a sense of tranquility in the moment, but when it becomes a habit you’ll learn to focus on the present and on your future wellbeing.

Gratitude journals are a way to encourage this, helping you to identify all those little details that make life pleasant every day.

What are gratitude journals?

As the name implies, it’s a notebook in which you keep a kind of diary. Only this isn’t for all daily experiences, just for some in particular.

The idea of a gratitude journal is to help yourself become aware of the good things around you that you may otherwise overlook. As a result, you’ll learn to focus on the positive parts of your life, and leave your problems aside for a moment.

Sometimes we forget that life always has good and bad aspects. But it’s important not to overlook the good and get bogged down by the bad. So a gratitude journal helps keep you focused on the positive.

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How do you make a gratitude journal?

There are lots of types of gratitude journals that you can buy in stores, which come with instructions on what to do. They even start each section with an inspirational phrase or thought.

You can also use a simple notebook, as long as you complete the exercises at the beginning and end of each day. In either case, working with a gratitude journal takes no more than five minutes, and it can be very helpful.

The basic idea is very simple: write down everything you’re grateful for. But in order to do this in a more methodical way, to focus and be more concise, here are some suggestions.

A woman writing in gratitude journals.
Gratitude journals highlight the positive situations and circumstances in your life.

Morning entries

In the mornings, preferably soon after you wake up, write down the following in your notebook:

  • First, three things you feel grateful for. It can be something general, such as your health, work or family; or as specific as the coffee you’re drinking.
  • Next, two things that you think would have to happen for your day to be positive; preferably, these should be specific, observable, and realistic events.
  • And finally, a positive affirmation about yourself. This should also be realistic, because the idea is not to deceive yourself, as this doesn’t contribute at all to healthy self-esteem.

Night time entries

Reflecting at night on how your day went is positive and beneficial. It allows you to value what you achieved in terms of your goals and to continue working for the future. It also helps you feel calm and relaxed when you go to bed.

With this in mind, write the following in your gratitude journal before going to sleep:

  • Three good things that happened to you during the day. They don’t have to be what you wished for in the morning; as long as they’re positive, it’s fine.
  • Two things that could have made the day better. Think about what you could change that’s within your reach, but without regret or reproach, or falling into a self-destructive attitude.

It may seem contradictory to be grateful for this last one; it’s often the things that don’t go well that help you learn and make you stronger. They represent an opportunity to improve.

The importance of practicing gratitude

Just five minutes a day working with your gratitude journal can help you turn a corner if you’ve been stuck or depressed for a while. Practicing gratitude not only helps you see the positive in the present moment, but also in what happened to get you to where you are.

Also, reviewing what didn’t happen as you expected helps you become aware of what you’re not doing right, allowing you to evaluate your performance. And mutatis mutandis: let what needs to change change.

There are even more benefits of practicing gratitude from the point of view of physical and mental health:

  • By valuing the positive things around you, you control the negative feelings that enhance depression.
  • You’ll improve your self-knowledge and self-confidence.
  • There’s no doubt that positive emotions improve health, and gratitude is one of these emotions.
  • Research conducted with athletes found that those who practice gratitude also have stronger self-esteem.
  • If you’re more grateful, you’ll also learn to complain less and stop feeling sorry for yourself and assuming the role of victim.
  • A positive attitude decreases stress and anxiety in the face of uncertainty.
  • When you show gratitude to those around you, they’ll perceive you as a kind person, you’ll receive positive feedback and your relationships with others will improve.
  • Going to bed more fulfilled and grateful makes for a better night’s sleep. Indeed, one study showed that gratitude positively influences sleep.
  • Evidence also suggests that gratitude is positively correlated with physical health.
  • Another study found that grateful people are more resilient in the face of post-traumatic stress.
A woman smiling while looking in the mirror.
If it becomes a habit, gratitude is an attitude that results in a happier lifestyle, with less stress and better physical health.

Always be grateful

Keeping a gratitude journal can be a little challenging at first, both because it’s a new habit and because not all of us are in the habit of acknowledging the positive things around us. But don’t give up on being grateful!

If it’s difficult to find three positive things every day, start with one. With practice it’ll become easier.

Many people start by writing down the material positives, the most specific or visible. This isn’t a bad thing, but don’t forget to add why that thing makes you feel good. And, with time, you’ll start to recognize the importance of spiritual gains more and more. Be grateful to whoever you want. Always be thankful, for everything you can.

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